20% rise in Notts children needing free school meals during pandemic

The number of children in Nottinghamshire claiming free school meals has increased by 20 per cent during the pandemic.

By Anna Whittaker
Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 9:28 am

Council figures show the number of children claiming free school meals in the county alone was 23,649 in April 2021.

In April 2020 it was 19,783, meaning the figure has risen by 19.5 per cent.

A total of 111,817 children across primary and secondary schools, excluding independent schools, were registered by the council this year.

England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has led a campaign to extend free school meals over school holidays.

Richard Ward is chairman of Nottinghamshire’s Phoenix Community Foundation, which set up a food bank during the coronavirus pandemic, and is currently handing out about 120 parcels a week – and is not surprised by the figures.

He said: “There was going to be an increase in the need for free school meals, because they have taken away the £20 a week universal credit.

“It is taking food off people’s tables, people can’t feed their families.

“We are coming out of the pandemic and starting to live life again, but people can’t afford what they could before.

“Prices are skyrocketing, it’s ridiculous.

“It puts more strain on food banks, there is more demand for food parcels when there shouldn’t be.

“As a country, we are going backwards. We’ve got to take a look at ourselves because we are ruining our children’s future.”

There was criticism of the Government earlier this month after the Universal Credit uplift of £20 was stopped – the Government said it was always a temporary measure.

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Overall, about 19.8 per cent of primary and 18.2 per cent of secondary schoolchildren are claiming free school meals in the county.

Five years ago, the rate was 12.4 per cent for both.

It comes as the number of Universal Credit claimants in the county has doubled since 2020 from 12,985 to 24,795.

The figures will be discussed during by Nottinghamshire Council’s children and young people’s committee on November 1, when councillors will vote on setting aside £2.3 million to provide free school meals for October half term, the Christmas holidays and February half term, for up to 27,500 children.

The Government extended free meals for eligible children into the holidays last year following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Now, some councils including Nottinghamshire are planning to use their own budgets to fund meals for eligible children during school holidays.